It’s your first day of high school, and while the graduation date might seem far, it really isn’t. As you go through your years in high school, you start to hear the word “college” more often and the biggest decision of your educational career has to be made soon: Figuring out where to go to college.
We’ve all been in that situation—but we’re here to tell you that, if you follow these steps, you’ll be able to make the best decision possible when it comes tochoosing the right college.
- Begin College Planning Before Senior Year Starts
It’s really critical that you begin your college planning before your senior starts because application deadlines can fly by and you might have to take a break from college for a semester or quarter (depending on the school). Not only that, but the National Center for Education Statistics reported that there is a decrease of 30% in four-year program enrollment of students who took a break from school for a year after graduating high school. Ideally, the sooner you start planning for college in your high school years, the better—but it’s recommended to start planning during your Junior year. Starting to plan soon will allow you to properly plan your path to college.
- Find Out What You’re Looking For Or Get Help
Start brainstorming college locations and majors with your parents or current/former college students. It’s important to have as many ideas in mind to be able to properly do your homework on which college will be the best for you to go with. It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s important to start to plan your college future, rather than waiting until the last minute to do so. You can also talk to your high school’s career center counselor so they can help you explore your college and major options.
- Come Up With A List
It’s important to build the list of colleges and majors that you’re considering so that you’ll be able to do your research on each of them. Don’t limit yourself to just a few choices, as you’ll want to review as many as possible to make sure that you can make the best decision possible.
- Explore Your Major Options
There are many majors out there and you’ll want to explore as many options as possible to decide which one’s right for you. There are a variety of ways to figure out which one might be good for you to go with, and one of the ways to do so is by choosing a major based on your personality.
- Establish If You’re Staying Local or If You’ll Be Far From Home
This is probably one of the biggest decisions that you’ll have to make as it will greatly affect your decisions later on. As it with anything, there are pros and cons of staying at home for college—but you’ll definitely want to review them to make the best decision possible. You can always wait on deciding this to consider options locally and far from home, but it’s always good to have an idea of which one you’re leaning towards before so that you can look at more of those options in detail later.
- Time for Research
You now have your list of colleges that you are considering and the next step is to start doing your research on them. The best place to start these days is with the college website. You’ll want to check out plenty of pages to learn more about them and get a feel for what the student life is like. You’ll definitely want to check the accreditations that they have. For example, at Humphreys University, one of our accreditations was provided by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) since 1972. It’s important to know that the colleges you are looking at have accreditations, because it provides much more value to your degree.
- Also Consider Private, Not-for-Profit Colleges
If your list consists of mainly public colleges, you’ll definitely want to consider private, not-for-profit colleges, as well. There are differences between both kinds of colleges and you may have benefits that you will miss out on if you don’t consider private as well. Typically, private colleges tend to have a smaller class size, since they generally have a smaller student population than most public colleges. For example, at Humphreys University, we have an 11:1 student teacher ratio, which allows students to have a better understanding of a course. This also provides them with more time to spend with instructors to ask any questions they have about the course.
- Figure Out Which Class Format Is Best For You
Many colleges offer online, on-campus, or even hybrid instruction. Online classes are especially helpful for busy adults or students looking to balance work and education. According to U.S. News, 23% of 24 & younger undergraduates are working 20 or more hours each week, so there is a likelihood you may be in this situation and having the option to have an online class or two could greatly help. Hybrid classes are especially helpful as they combine both the online and campus elements which provide students with the experience of taking the class on campus and completing the rest of the classwork online. If you’re thinking that you may be working often during college, then you should definitely be looking at all of the online options that the colleges have to offer.
- Calculate Costs of Different Colleges
After you’ve compared all of the non-financial options, you’ll want to also look at the costs involved with different colleges. Aside from tuition itself, you should take a look at other costs such as housing, gas, food, and even an average of the costs of books in a particular subject.
- View Available Financial Aid Options
In another column of your college search spreadsheet, you should include the available financial aid options, as these can vary from school to school. Of course, it’s important to know what options are available to you, because if you are in need of the help, you’ll want to make sure you get as much help as possible. There are a variety of types of financial aid out there and there is a high chance that there’s some that you’ll qualify for. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2016-17, 85% of full-time undergraduate students received financial aid.
- Apply to Scholarships During Your Search
Although you can apply as a college student, there is an increase in opportunities available to you when you are in high school or have recently graduated high school. There are a variety of avenues to lookup scholarships, but one of the most popular out there is FastWeb. You can also find scholarship opportunities in other avenues such as your workplace or colleges themselves can have unique scholarship opportunities to students applying to them or currently attending.
- View Career Service/Counseling Options
Most colleges offer career services, offer resources, or list what career options are available for your particular degree. This is something you should take into consideration when looking at your options as, the more support you have to succeed post-graduation, the better career opportunities that’ll be in store.
- Review College Application Deadlines
Make sure that you review the deadlines for every college on your list. This is one of those columns on your page that you will likely be referencing to often. It’s important to have these deadlines in mind, especially after you choose the college of your choice.
- Narrow List of College Options
Choosing a college can be intimidating, but narrowing your options is key. Make sure your options fall in line with what your expectations and needs are, and narrow your list to two or three institutions you are considering. It’s important to make sure that you narrow because comparing two schools allows for more research to be done, rather than comparing a list of ten. Go through your list and check off the items that you liked the most from each college. You can use a highlighter to make those items stand out. After you do that, you can go through the list and count the number of items that are highlighted per college and go with the top 3 as a way of reducing the list.
- Schedule College Tours
College tours are a great way to be exposed to the atmosphere a school can have by observing other students, visiting the dining hall, or even arranging to view a lecture. You’ll want to book a tour at the top 3 or so colleges on your list. This will help you experience the school firsthand and be able to take your tour into consideration in the later step of choosing the college you’ll be attending.
- Speak to Current Students/Check Out Alumni Groups
Nothing beats speaking with real students attending the college you are looking to go to. There are college tours that are given by actual students, so this is your perfect opportunity to ask them about their experience and general questions about the college that you may have not asked yet. You can also look for videos on student testimonials like the ones we have on our Humphreys YouTube Channel. If you want to know more about the complete experience from a graduate’s perspective of that particular college, you could check out their alumni groups and ask them questions.
- Research Available Housing Options
Now that you have more information, take a look at the available housing options in detail. You’ll want to look at the monthly rent costs and the distance from these options to the college to get an idea of which of them you’d probably be going with, in the event that you choose that college. Tuition aside, housing is what you’ll likely be spending the most on during your college career, so it’s very important to be aware of the costs and factor these into your decision.
- Figure Out Which Colleges to Apply to
At this point, you’ll have all of the information that you were looking for and are now ready to narrow your options to only those colleges you’re seriously considering applying to. Usually there are costs associated with applications, so it’s critical to only apply to those colleges that you are really interested in attending. You’ll definitely want to apply to more than one college so that you can have offers to compare in the next step.
- Compare College Offers
After you’ve applied, you may have to wait a couple of weeks to hear back from the colleges you applied to—but once you’ve received the college offers, it’s time to compare them. In this step, you’ll want to review all of the data you’ve generated and make your decision. It may seem like the hardest step of all, but at this point you’ll have narrowed your list down to only those colleges you can really picture yourself going to.
- Accept Offer Before Deadline!
After you’ve decided which offer you’ll be accepting, make sure you accept it before the deadline! It’s super important to make sure that you don’t miss the deadline, as missing it can mean having to wait months before attending. You may even have to resubmit another application—or worst of all, they may not send you another offer.
- Start Planning Your Move to College
Final Step! You should be proud of yourself for completing all of the previous steps. It may have taken a lot of work, but you are working towards choosing the right college for your higher education and this kind of thing isn’t done in a day. You should now start planning when you’ll be moving to college, if you choose to move far from home. If you decided to stay near home, then start thinking about what classes you’ll be taking each semester and schedule an appointment to see a college counselor to start planning your courses.
Never Give Up
You may go through difficult times with classes, but don’t let that discourage you from your end goal of obtaining your Bachelor’s degree. Let the motivation of being able to earn about $1 million more than someone without a Bachelor’s degree motivate you to complete your education. If you want to continue after obtaining it, there are plenty of options to further your education by applying to a Graduate program. Remember that you went through all the time and effort to choose the perfect college—you can’t let it go to waste. If you feel like you’re having a hard time with a class, talk to student support services or one of your college counselors to see if there are any tutoring services available on campus.